Over the years, a few key concepts have driven my approach to leading projects, programs and portfolios. Chief among them is change. Consider the definition of a project:
“A project can be defined as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service” – Project Management Institute
Projects always effect change – creating something new or different. Even the exertion to create brings change. Plus, we live in a world of constant change – change that can and will impact our projects. Understanding the many expressions –or faces – of change can improve our ability to lead them well. Let’s review the seven faces of change in a project, and strategies I’ve found effective in handling change.
Change produced by a product
By definition, projects produce change. This is the first of two categories and has three faces.
Intended Change results from clearly understood project goals, scope and requirements. Project efforts rightly focus here. “The new ABC software will be installed, configured and implemented for XYZ department,” reflects intended change in a project scope.
Extended Change results from the impacts of the Intended Change. Often implied in projects, these ’ripple effects’ tend to point to needed adoption and process changes that extend beyond the project scope, but are usually anticipated. For example, “XYZ Department will need extra staff in the short term due to slow downs from learning to use the new software.”
Unintended Changes often result from a lack of adequate scoping, requirements, or planning. Whether missed or simply too obscure to see, Unintended Change becomes the bane of projects. For example, “The new ABC software doesn’t address part of the workflow for XYZ Department and requires the department to create a manual workaround.” Ouch. This miss in scope will force unintended and unwanted change.
Change introduced to a project
While projects produce change, change will also be introduced to the project. This second type of change and its faces makes a project much more challenging.
Purposeful changes introduced to a project can be motivated negatively or positively. Both require keen attention by project leadership.
1. Negative change
Woodrow Wilson said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Project stakeholders may resist the project—i.e., seek to change the change! Sometimes resistance is as sub-conscious and subtle as procrastination or complaining. Sometimes it is direct: stakeholders pushing to eliminate, delay, or diminish project scope.
2. Positive change
As a project progresses, potential changes to improve the project outcomes may also be identified and proposed. For example, a stakeholder realizes that a new application can be modified using a little extra effort to address an additional workflow.
Our projects, which produce change, also occur in a world that is unpredictable and always changing. These changes can be external or internal to the project.
Leadership continually vies for priority, budget, and resources for projects. Emergencies can derail projects. Organizations face changing priorities, economics, revenues, regulation, etc. For example, a company having a bad quarter may lay off contractors and thus slow down progress on important projects, or force a reduction in scope.
Unexpected things happen within projects as well. Each person involved in a project is a change waiting to happen. Health issues. Job changes. Personal conflicts. Misunderstood requirements. For example, a key project team member is injured in a car accident and is out from work for several weeks. Beyond the people involved, project technology or equipment can also unexpectedly break.
Most of us have experienced all seven faces of change – and often within the same project. Unfortunately, organizations tend to ignore some of these faces in their project management methods and tools. What if we instead considered all seven faces of change in every project? What might that look like? How many disasters might we avert, or at least manage better?
To wrap up, consider how you might apply some of the following recommendations.
- Anticipate – Expect all seven faces of change every project—and be pleasantly surprised when some don’t occur! Be proactive in exploring the faces of change. Always be on the alert. This is not pessimism, but an acknowledgement that change is not something to be avoided, but a reality to be navigated.
- Expand – Think about change beyond the start date and go live date. Our charters should consider all possible change before a project is ever approved. Projects should be considered complete when the product/service being produced is part of the normal, ongoing work of the organization. This focus on the ‘new normal’ will foster better buy-in and adoption.
- Cooperate – Prioritize communication, listening, and respect in and between departments, groups, teams, vendors, etc. Changes can be identified and handled more quickly this way. Misunderstandings can be averted. People will also be more willing to work together to address challenges.
- Learn – Look at your growth in project management through the lens of change. Which of the seven faces are you weakest at identifying and addressing in your projects? What soft skills and best practices can be pursued to improve your abilities?
- Adapt – Does your organization’s project management methodology take into account all seven faces? If so, how can you improve? If not, how can you fill the gaps?
- Iterate – Investigate using an iterative approach (such as Agile) for reducing unwanted changes and focusing on desired changes in short cycles. It does not eliminate all undesirable changes, but it can reduce them.
- Integrate – An integrated approach to project, program, and portfolio management creates needed visibility into all seven faces of change. Without it, projects often happen in silos and teams become reactive, hoping that no unidentified influences produce unwanted change.
Choose a current project. Assess all seven faces. Do you have the risk of potential negative changes? Do you have changes that are not being handled well? If so, act now. Pursue one or more of the recommendations, and think change as you manage your projects.